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YouTube faces creator backlash

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

YouTube, the Google-owned video platform that gave rise to dozens of famous video stars, is now facing pushback from the very community that it has worked to build over the past decade.

Why it matters: YouTube's creator backlash is occurring as other user-generated video platforms begin to emerge as creators' favorites — most notably, Chinese-owned karaoke-style video app TikTok.

Driving the news: The "YouTubers Union," a self-proclaimed movement that "fights for the rights of YouTube creators and users," is teaming up with Germany's largest union (and Europe's largest industrial union) to launch a joint campaign targeting YouTube, Vice News reports.

  • The campaign, called "FairTube," seeks to hold YouTube accountable for the changes the platform has made to video monetization and distribution.
  • The campaign says on its website that it asked YouTube to enter into negotiations with it on July 26, and it has given YouTube an apparent negotiation deadline of Aug. 23.

Between the lines: The news comes amid reports that creators ditched YouTube at this year's annual VidCon video creator conference for YouTube's new video rival, TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance.

  • According to a report from BuzzFeed News, creators complained about YouTube’s lack of institutional support, while marketers and brand managers "seemed excited about what a YouTube-less future might look like."

Yes, but: YouTube has defended policies that it thought would benefit creators in the past.

  • Earlier this month, the company made changes to the way creators can file copyright claims to make them easer to manage, The Verge reports.
  • Earlier this year, YouTube led an aggressive consumer-facing lobbying campaign to fight the European Union's new Copyright Directive.
  • Ahead of VidCon, it added more ways for video creators to make money, while many of its competitors, including Facebook and Snapchat, also introduced new tools for creators to make more money and gain more traction.

The big picture: YouTube is still one of the largest and most lucrative ad platforms in the world, and many creators earn a lot more money there than on some of the smaller or newer video platforms.

  • According to a new study by Pew Research Center, a little over 40,000 high-subscriber YouTube channels produced nearly a quarter-million videos on YouTube in just the first week of 2019. Together, their videos were viewed more than 14.2 billion times in their first 7 days on the platform.
  • While YouTube's parent Google doesn't specify how much revenue YouTube makes, estimates put its annual revenue at anywhere between $16 billion to $25 billion.

The bottom line: Some creators may be unhappy with the way YouTube sets and changes policies on its platform, but this new backlash isn't likely to slow the video giant's overall momentum.